Cormorants in the Bible: A Deeper Look at Their Symbolic Meaning

Cormorants are water birds that are mentioned several times throughout the Bible. They belong to the Phalacrocoracidae family and are related to pelicans, gannets, boobies, and darters. Cormorants have symbolic significance in the Bible that is important for Christians, particularly those of Evangelical and Charismatic traditions, to understand. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the deeper biblical meaning behind these unique birds.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cormorants are mentioned in Leviticus 11:17 and Deuteronomy 14:17 as unclean birds that the Israelites were forbidden to eat. Their inclusion shows that God cares about all parts of creation.
  • Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14 describe ruined cities being inhabited by cormorants and other desert creatures. This illustrates how the birds thrive in desolate places.
  • The Psalmist uses the cormorant in Psalm 102:6 to depict his mournful state. The birds were often associated with desolation.
  • Some Bible versions translate the Hebrew word “shalak” as cormorant in Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14. Others use the word “pelican” due to uncertainties over the exact species referred to.
  • Jesus referenced birds in the Sermon on the Mount, stating that God feeds them despite their insignificance (Matthew 6:26). This applies to cormorants too.
  • Cormorants show God’s intricate care for all of creation, His control over the natural world, and His presence even in desolate places.
Cormorants in the Bible: A Deeper Look at Their Symbolic Meaning

The Cormorant’s Place Among Unclean Birds

Cormorants first appear in the Bible in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, where God instructs the Israelites through Moses on which birds they can and cannot eat:

“And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe and the bat.” (Leviticus 11:13-19, NKJV)

“And you shall not eat any abominable thing among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind; every raven after its kind, the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.” (Deuteronomy 14:11-18, NKJV)

The key point is that God explicitly forbids the Israelites to eat cormorants, along with many other birds. This prohibition does not imply that cormorants or other unclean birds are somehow evil or completely useless. Rather, it stems from God’s desire for the Israelites to learn holiness and self-control, setting them apart from the surrounding nations at that time.

By following these dietary restrictions, the Israelites cultivated reverence for God’s creation and authority over all living things. Although Christians are not bound by these same ceremonial laws today, they remind us that God cares for all parts of the natural world – even little-known waterfowl like cormorants. Every creature has value because the Lord made it.

Representing Ruin and Desolation

Beyond the dietary laws, cormorants and their desolate habitats symbolize ruined cities and barren wastelands in two Old Testament prophetic books:

“But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it, Also the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. And He shall stretch out over it The line of confusion and the stones of emptiness.” (Isaiah 34:11, NKJV)

“Herds shall lie down in her midst, Every beast of the nation. Both the pelican and the bittern Shall lodge on the capitals of her pillars; Their voice shall sing in the windows; Desolation shall be at the threshold; For He will lay bare the cedar work.” (Zephaniah 2:14, NKJV)

The prophets Isaiah and Zephaniah describe destroyed cities being inhabited by cormorants (translated “pelican” here), owls, porcupines, and other desert creatures. Rather than productive human civilization, these desolate birds and animals will occupy the abandoned ruins.

Cormorants thrive around marshes, shorelines, islands, and other relatively isolated places. By picturing them dwelling in once-great cities, the prophets illustrate how urban glory can quickly fade into wilderness and oblivion under divine judgment.

These passages convey a sober warning that our earthly accomplishments are fleeting. Those who turn from God risk having their lofty ambitions turned into dust and ashes, scattered by the winds of time. Only by honoring the Lord can we build anything of eternal value.

Depicting Mourning and melancholy

Cormorants lend their mournful aura to another poetic passage about desolation in Psalm 102:

“I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I have become like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, and have become like a sparrow alone on the housetop.” (Psalm 102:6-7, NKJV)

Here the psalmist depicts his lonely melancholy by comparing himself to three different birds: the cormorant, the owl, and the sparrow. This poetic device creates a desolate scene emphasizing the psalmist’s sense of abandonment and deep anguish.

By selecting bird species associated with wastelands and solitude, the psalmist underscores his profound isolation. His mood is bleak and hopeless like a cormorant wailing in a barren wilderness.

This vivid bird imagery reveals how the natural world reflects our inner emotional landscape. Cormorants especially evoke a downcast mood fitting the psalmist’s sunken spiritual state. Their haunting calls certainly match his melancholy.

There is hope, however. Later in Psalm 102, the psalmist praises God for hearing his prayer and renewing his strength (Psalm 102:17-22). Even when we inhabit the lowest depths, the Lord can lift us up again to soar like eagles. Our mourning can give way to joy.

Uncertain Translation as Pelicans

Most contemporary English Bible versions translate the Hebrew word “shalak” as “cormorant” in the passages above from Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Psalms. However, some older translations such as the King James Version render it as “pelican” instead.

This uncertainty stems from challenges definitively identifying which exact species of water bird the ancient Hebrew term refers to. Pelicans closely resemble cormorants in many ways. Both have throat pouches and dive for fish, so it is understandable how translations might alternate between them.

Does the question of cormorants versus pelicans affect the symbolic meaning of these verses? Not substantially. Both bird species convey the core messages about ruin, desolation, and mourning that fit the surrounding contexts. And they share the same habitats around waterways and isolated islands.

Whether the original Hebrew means cormorants, pelicans, or some related waterfowl, the spiritual significance remains intact. God’s Word still speaks.

Jesus Notes God’s Care for Cormorants

Cormorants receive one final mention in the New Testament during Christ’s iconic Sermon on the Mount discourse. Jesus says:

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NKJV)

Here Christ points to flying birds, which certainly include cormorants, as examples of how God provides for all creation. They do not plow fields, plant crops, or store food yet their needs are met.

Jesus then argues that if God sustains these lesser creatures, how much more will He provide for human beings made in His image? We often worry excessively about material needs, yet cormorants simply trust their Creator to satisfy them.

This reference elevates cormorants beyond just symbols of desolation. Alongside all birds, they become representations of God’s faithful provision and grace. Their existence testifies to His attentive care.

Key Themes About Cormorants in Scripture

Drawing these different biblical passages together, we can summarize several key themes that emerge about cormorants:

  • They are part of God’s creation under His authority, even though considered unclean for eating
  • Their desolate habitat represents cursed and abandoned places undergoing divine judgment
  • They symbolize mourning, melancholy, and a feeling of utter aloneness
  • God never forgets them but meets their daily needs just as He cares for us
  • They illustrate God’s intricate concern for all His creatures, great and small

Far from being merely incidental birds, cormorants in Scripture give us glimpses into God’s careful governance of the natural world. Their gloomy cries pierce the silence of ruined cities, reminding us of our own isolation and dependence on divine grace. ultimately pointing to the Lord’s faithfulness and redemption.

Applying the Cormorant’s Biblical Significance

For Christians today, especially Evangelicals and Charismatics, what lessons can we draw from the cormorant’s biblical meaning? Here are some key applications to take away:

  • All creation matters to God – Don’t disregard certain animals as unimportant. Join Him in appreciating every creature’s goodness.
  • Avoid spiritual wastelands – Don’t become desolate ruins by abandoning God. Draw near to Him to stay spiritually healthy.
  • Cry out to God in mourning – Don’t suppress despair but pour it out before God like the psalmist. Let Him comfort you.
  • Have faith in God’s provision – Don’t become consumed with material worries. Trust God to meet daily needs as He does for cormorants.
  • Find God in desolate places – Don’t think God is absent when you feel abandoned. He is there, just as cormorants thrive in wastelands.

Cormorants are easy to overlook, yet their symbolic meaning in Scripture touches on many core aspects of our walk with God. Let these unique water birds inspire you to draw closer to the Lord who created them and sustains all living creatures. He cares for you more than you can imagine.


Cormorants have captured people’s imaginations for millennia as mysterious waterfowl inhabiting desolate coastal regions. In the Bible, they carry rich symbolic significance relating to God’s authority, judgment, divine care, and our own vulnerability apart from His grace.

Evangelical and Charismatic Christians today can gain much from meditating on the cormorant’s place in Scripture. From adhering to God’s dietary laws, to avoiding spiritual wastelands, to finding hope in ruin, these intriguing birds provoke profound worship and insight. They teach us to rely fully on our faithful Creator who provides for all our needs, no matter how insignificant we feel.

The next time you encounter a cormorant coasting low over remote waters or perched on a rocky island, remember its scriptural meaning. Let it spur you to thank God for His meticulous care over every detail of creation. Just as He watches over obscure waterfowl, He attends personally to every one of your needs. You are treasured by the Lord in whose hands the cormorants – and your very life – rest securely.

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